Jepchirchir had just bagged Kenya’s third gold in Japan. However, the two-time world half-marathon winner won more plaudits with her heartwarming gesture to Kosgei during the race.
The two athletes ran shoulder-to-shoulder showcasing exemplary teamwork that saw them finish first and second, bagging gold and silver.
In the middle of the race under the scorching sun, Jepchirchir paused for a moment, asked for two water bottles, and handed over one to Brigid Kosgei who was at first struggling to keep pace.
The organisers moved the race to Sapporo to protect the athletes from the sweltering summer heat in Tokyo. It was not a rosy day even after the race was rescheduled as the heat in Sapporo also rose from 26 degrees Celcius to nearly 30 degrees.
As other athletes walked out of the race and poured several bottles of water over their heads, the two kept motivating each other with eyes on the trophies ahead, keen to save Kenyaâ€™s face. The country had bagged two gold medals only and had failed to live up to her expectations in other events.
After running together for nearly 40kms, Jepchirchir broke out of the virtual tie and sprinted to glory, crossing the line at 2:27:20, 16 seconds ahead of Kosgei and 26 seconds in front of American Molly Seidel, a newcomer in the marathon who moved up from shorter distances.
“When I was there I said, wow, I’m going to make it. So I pushed the pace because I knew I was going to win (sic),” Jepchirchir stated.
“I’m so, so happy because we won as Kenya, first and second… I’m happy for my family, happy for my country, Kenya, for supporting us.â€
Kosgei admitted that the weather was really hot and tough for the competition but could not deter the duo from sprinting to victory. â€œWe tried our best to finish,â€ she added.
“I want to say thanks to my colleagues who trained with me because I brought silver and my friend brought gold, and we are really, really happy,” Kosgei could not hide her love for her compatriots.
Back home, the National Olympic Committee-Kenya (NOCK) led plaudits for the duo, joining many politicians in recognising the teamwork and spirit the two athletes embodied.
NOCK stated that it was a great show of teamwork that made their dreams come true.
Siaya Senator James Orengo quotes the Bible in Proverbs 27:17 which states: “As one piece of iron sharpens another, so friends keep each other sharp.”
â€œIt was a great show of teamwork and unity to see Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei sharing water as they went on to win gold and silver respectively. What a great win!â€ Orengo tweeted.
However, as the two celebrated their wins, it was a sad morning for their compatriot and world champion Ruth Chepngetich who had pulled out of the race after the 30km mark. Chepngetich and Kosgei had been favourites to bag gold ahead of Jepchirchir.
Chepngetich could not withstand the hot and humid conditions. However, her story to the Tokyo Olympics was one of resilience and passion for her country. She was reported to have fallen sick en route to Japan but opted to represent Kenya rather than withdrawing from the Olympics.
â€œWe laud Ruth Chepngetich who, unfortunately, did not finish the race. Ruth had a tough (sick) time on the road to Tokyo 2020, but she managed to get to Japan for national duty. Patriotism does not get better than this! Bravo Ruth!â€ NOCK stated.